TOPICS > Politics

Criticism Continues Against Defense Secretary Rumsfeld

December 20, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: Donald Rumsfeld may be the Bush administration’s most consistent lightning rod. Is that a good or a bad thing?

For an analysis of the secretary’s wartime performance, we get two views. Retired Marine Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold had a 30-year career in the military; his last assignment was as director of operations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

And James Schlesinger was director of the CIA and then secretary of defense during the Nixon and Ford administrations. He now serves on the Defense Policy Board, which advises Secretary Rumsfeld.

Secretary Schlesinger, how much of this dispute about Donald Rumsfeld is about personality and how much of it is about performance?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: Well, it’s mostly about personality. There are a lot of people out there that do not like Donald Rumsfeld.

You’re getting a recycling of complaints that have gone back to the beginning of the administration.

A lot of the press that talked about quagmire back in the days of the Afghanistan run-up and then in the early days of the war finally have… may have found a quagmire that they’ve been predicting or maybe they hope that they’ve got a quagmire.

GWEN IFILL: So, in your opinion, Secretary Rumsfeld’s doing a good job?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: Secretary Rumsfeld has done a good job. He gets an A for Afghanistan and an A for the invasion.

For the post-invasion period, he probably gets a C-plus. All in all he’s done a very good job.

GWEN IFILL: Gen. Newbold, personality or performance?

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD (Ret.): I’m not sure you can separate the two completely.

Unfortunately his personality has influenced the performance because in my view you need an open exchange of ideas where notions are maybe contrary to your own are solicited.

And I don’t think he’s fostered an environment that does that. If there is poor advice offered, and therefore, poor decisions made, sometimes you end up where we are right now.

GWEN IFILL: You worked in the Pentagon under Secretary Rumsfeld or with Secretary Rumsfeld, give us an example of what you mean when you say the personality and the performance got mixed up with one another.

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD (Ret.): Well, the climate is very important. I think an environment that fosters contrary opinions or that seeks to determine where advice may be different than your own is very important.

Even when that advice isn’t taken, the understanding that it may be offered– whether it’s from the Congress, from allies, from the media, from….

GWEN IFILL: From generals.

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD (Ret.): Maybe even from generals. But from your commanders is very important. And certainly that didn’t exist on many occasions.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Secretary….

JAMES SCHLESINGER: On many occasions it certainly did exist. Tommy Franks gave him… the secretary his advice. It reshaped the invasion.

General Abizaid gives him advice. Certainly Gen. Myers feels that way. There is a great deal of interaction between the secretary and his senior officers.

He sometimes has a challenging style, but general officers should not be dismayed by his challenging style..

GWEN IFILL: Did we see his challenging style on view last week with his answer to the questions about armored vehicles? What did you make of that?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: Well, I think that that is basically a press frenzy.

If you look at his answer in the beginning of the answer, what he did was to encourage the troops and say, “I talked to the general officers about when we could get more armored vehicles.

“We are moving these armored vehicles from every part of the world in which they’re not needed. We are increasing production of those armored vehicles.”

Then he moved into the point that you quoted. And I think that it’s a misrepresentation of his views.

GWEN IFILL: Assuming you’ve seen the entire representation of what he said that day, what’s your sense about that, General?

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD (Ret.): I agree to some degree.

That is, I think holding Secretary Rumsfeld accountable for the armor issue is a little bit akin to convicting Al Capone for tax evasion.

There are many issues of much greater importance than that which the secretary I think should be held accountable. And the armor issue, that’s primarily a service issue.

GWEN IFILL: When we talk about — we’ll move on the big ones.

But I’m also curious about another issue which kind of bubbled up over the weekend, which is the signing using auto pen to sign letters of condolences to fallen soldiers’ families.

When you were secretary did you sign those letters by yourself? Did you have to sign any of them?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: There was no combat while I was secretary.

GWEN IFILL: Do you think it was a good idea?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: I don’t think that is a good idea.

I think that the fact that the secretary is now signing those letters personally indicates that he did not think it was a good idea in retrospect.

GWEN IFILL: Is that something that is emblematic of anything to you?

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD (Ret.): I’m not surprised by it. The same secretary, when asked if casualties bothered him said, “Well, sure they bother me but remember they’re volunteers.”

That’s kind of a troubling approach to this. It he ought to show more sensitivity.

GWEN IFILL: What did you make of the criticisms coming from Capitol Hill last week specifically and most kind of noticeably from Republicans.

Senators Hagel and McCain and Lott and Sen. Collins all saying in varying degrees that their sense of confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld has been shaken?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: The real question is whether the president has confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld. And he answered that today.

He serves at the pleasure of the president, and I think that you’ve got the answer. He will continue to serve as secretary of defense.

GWEN IFILL: Isn’t it better to get along with people on the Hill?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: It is better to get along with people on the Hill, but he’s getting along with most of them.

You saw the quote from John Warner. Of the four people on television yesterday, the ranking Democrats and the two chairmen… none of them called for his resignation.

GWEN IFILL: General, when you hear people talking about lost confidence whether on the Hill or other places perhaps within the Pentagon itself, do you find that significant?

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD (Ret.): I hear a lot of those comments. I think the issue probably is as Secretary Schlesinger’s articulated.

The president clearly has great confidence in the secretary. I think he’ll weather this storm. He’ll certainly maintain his position through the Iraqi elections.

How many more missteps he can take I’m not certain. He’s at the pleasure of the president.

GWEN IFILL: Do you have confidence in the secretary?

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD (Ret.): Confidence? I have felt for years that we didn’t have the secretary of defense who was the right one to develop the plans to conduct our operations the way we needed to.

And my opinion hasn’t changed.

GWEN IFILL: Let me flip this a little bit because you are supportive of the secretary and you are not.

So, let me ask you, Secretary Schlesinger, what would you consider to be the secretary’s weak points?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: Well, I think that as I indicated earlier the run-up, planning for the post-war period was not complete.

And the reaction when the insurgency started was somewhat slow.

But the secretary, as soon as those IED’s started going off, he established a committee to look into technology that would deal with those IED’s.

He has been quite responsive.

GWEN IFILL: The IED’s being the…

JAMES SCHLESINGER: Explosive devices that are along the roads. It’s interesting that now that we’re past Ramadan that the number of incidents is down to pre-Ramadan levels and that as Gen. Casey said yesterday at the Pentagon, that of the 18 provinces, 14 of them are quite calm.

GWEN IFILL: Gen. Newbold, what would you say Secretary Rumsfeld’s strong points are?

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD (Ret.): He had a great vision when he came into the Pentagon.

I think his ideas on changing the character of the way operations were conducted and the way that the Pentagon processes were conducted were right on target.

If you listed the ten top priorities for Secretary Rumsfeld, I would have agreed with all ten of them. It’s not what he wished to accomplish. It’s probably how.

GWEN IFILL: When you talk about one of his priorities, one of them is the transformation of the military which is a grand term which means in some ways making it kind of a leaner, lighter, more efficient military.

Is that something which can co-exist in your opinion, General, with conducting a multi-front open-ended war?

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD (Ret.): I think transformation was probably not fully articulated. It’s a desirable goal but there was not a lot behind it.

It tended to be platform-centric rather than what I think…

GWEN IFILL: What does that mean?

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD (Ret.): Aircraft, submarines, ships.

I think a more complete transformation has changed the culture of an institution, to add to its mental agility not just its speed of movement but speed of thinking.

GWEN IFILL: Can it work now, while we’re at war?

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD (Ret.): Absolutely. It needs to work while we’re at war as much as any other time.

GWEN IFILL: Secretary Schlesinger?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: Well, I think that Gen. Shoemaker is making some of those changes in the army.

The army has been a slow institution to adjust. But he is moving away from divisions towards brigades that can be moved independently.

Indeed for the Navy and the Air Force, this has been a platform centric adjustment but the Navy and the Air Force are about platforms, whereas the Marines and the Army are about organization and people.

GWEN IFILL: Has Secretary Rumsfeld managed this insurgency well, the idea of troop levels?

Is the American military, as it is positioned right now in Iraq, where it ought to be? Is it being managed correctly?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: I think that he has had as much in the way of force in Iraq as the limits of the budget permit.

People must remember that there’s been a 40 percent increase in the budget and that there are those over in the executive office who limit the funds for the Department of Defense.

Manpower still is the most expensive part of our military establishment as opposed to other military establishments.

GWEN IFILL: Gen. Newbold, when it comes to managing the insurgency and the appropriate troop levels, do you think that Secretary Rumsfeld has done all he can or has he been hamstrung by finances?

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD (Ret.): I think the war should probably dictate our troop levels.

I think we need to provide what’s required for the fight. I think they’ve been a bit shocked-and-awed by what’s happened in the post Baghdad situation.

And although some people I respect deeply have said we have sufficient force over there, my personal opinion is the facts belie that.

GWEN IFILL: And so you think there should be more troops and do you hold Secretary Rumsfeld responsible for that?

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD (Ret.): I hold two people responsible. The environment was created by Secretary Rumsfeld but senior military leaders are not gagged.

They need to be able to speak out forcefully and if that’s not sufficient, then to take other….

GWEN IFILL: Are senior military leaders intimidated?

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD (Ret.): They certainly have been.

GWEN IFILL: One final question to both of you quickly which is whether… you’re right. Secretary Rumsfeld comes under attack periodically.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had some version of this discussion.

Would a change at the top if he were to be replaced make a difference in your opinion in terms of U.S. Administration policy, military policy?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: I don’t think so. The policies come from the president. I think that the removal of Secretary Rumsfeld would be a boon to all of our enemies around the world.

They would rejoice in the caves in which al-Qaida leaders hide; that our enemies in the Middle East would rejoice.

He has become a symbol of American steadfastness, and I think that that would be tragedy if he were to be removed.

GWEN IFILL: General?

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD (Ret.): I would not make a change until after the Iraqi elections.

And it would depend on who became the new secretary of defense and the forcefulness with which they articulated the importance of sticking with a policy of strength.

I think that is absolutely critical. So it depends on who would replace him.

GWEN IFILL: Gen. Newbold and Secretary Schlesinger, thank you both very much.

LT. GEN. GREGORY NEWBOLD (Ret.): Thank you.